Costly Pillows

COSTLY PILLOWS
By KONRAD BERCOVICI

Wolf looked like a poet. He had the traditional long hair and dreamy eyes ornamenting a dark face, and he was as poor as a poet, but he wrote the most miserable drivel —— But he was a very agreeable fellow, Wolf was, and all the Yiddish writing fraternity was very anxious about his welfare. None of the new Weeklies or Monthlies ever started without at least one of Wolf’s poems. Yet Wolf was slowly starving.

Berger, the well known Jewish banker, was a very frequent guest of the writer’s club. So Berger was approached in Wolf’s behalf; not that he give the poet alms but that he give him a job. Wolf got the job and was paid fifty dollars a month. His duties were manifold; he had to roll packages of nickel and silver coin, and in spare time he turned out rhymed advertisement which the banker published in the papers.

Wolf must have felt at first very grateful to his patron employer. Regular meals after a long period of intermittent starvation make one cheerful and happy. This was the cause that after a while his appetite was more directed to quality than to quantity; it frequently happened that Wolf should run short of money at the end of the week.

He would then come around the club and borrow a dollar or two to be returned at the first opportunity.

As he had a job, Wolf’s poems were no longer forced upon editors by kind friends. They had to stand on their own merit. Very few of them were either bad enough or good enough to be printed, so Wolf became known as “The Banker” and lost standing as a poet.

One Sunday afternoon Berger sat in the cafe of the club drinking tea and talking of the expensive things he owned. He was not given to bragging. It was business. He wanted to gain the confidence of the people so that they might deposit with him the money of the Jewish war relief-funds.

“I made some improvements on my country house and it cost me forty thousand dollars.”

“And what is the house worth?” someone asked, which was just what Berger wanted.

“A quarter of a million,” he replied negligently between sips from his glass.

Wolf came in and sat down at the same table with his employer and the rest of the people. To talk of his fortune was plainly inviting disaster; and a well known journalist who was collecting funds for the war relief saw his opportunity and asked the banker to contribute. It was a bad stroke. The whole café stood at attention.

“What is the top figure on your list,” the banker calmly asked. “Hefner, with thousand dollars.”

“Which Hefner, the banker or his brother, if you please, tell me?”

“The banker.”

“Well, if that be so, if Hefner gives thousand dollars, I can easily give five thousand dollars and feel it less than if he gives fifty cents.”

Thus speaking Berger took out his check-book and the while all the heads drew into a circle over the piece of paper, the banker filled out the promised sum, and tendered it to the happy solicitor. It created a sensation. Every new guest was told about it. “Berger gave five thousand dollars.”

People hastened down the stairs, rushing to the cafe to tell to everybody the great news. It was telephoned to the Jewish and English papers. While expecting the reporters, Berger continued to speak as though nothing important had happened, of the costly things he possessed. All the while Wolf sat as quiet as a mouse. Simply struck speechless.

“I bought last week two chairs and they cost me a hundred dollars,” Berger said; “a carved oak table for a hundred and fifty, a candelabra for seventy dollars; and my cane costs me forty dollars.”

The eyes of every one were on this lucky mortal when Wolf {40} suddenly exclaimed, “That’s nothing, I have two pillows, and they cost me more than a hundred dollars.”

“What?” every one asked in amazement.

“Yes, yes,” Wolf continued, his eyes riveted on his employer. “You see, originally they cost only six dollars a piece, feather pillows, you know; but in the last two years since I work in a bank I have pawned them every Wednesday or Thursday and redeemed them on the following Saturday. The twelve cents interest plus the fifty cents for storage the pawnshop-keeper charges every week, brought up the cost of those two pillows until they are the costliest things of their kind in the world.”

When Wolf finished telling his story, Berger knew that his five thousand dollars were wasted. He left without waiting for the reporters. Wolf lost his job at the bank.


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